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Comic Book / Bookhunter

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"We guard no less than the sum of all human knowledge. We are the Library Police."
Agent Bay

Bookhunter is a comic book by Jason Shiga.

In 1973, a priceless book is stolen from the Oakland Public Library. Three agents from the Library Police are called in to investigate: Agent Bay (detective), Agent Walker (document analyst), and Agent Finch (fingerprint expert).

Their investigation manages to hit all the usual Police Action Film tropes: foot chases, Perp Sweating, swarming the suspect's apartment with the SWAT team, and so on. The fact that it's the Library Police doing all this is played so straight that the entire thing ends up as a Stealth Parody of the genre.

The book can be purchased on Amazon, or read here on Jason Shiga's website.

Bookhunter provides examples of:

  • Acrofatic: Chief Spencer is a large, round man, but in the final chase scene he proves to be just as fast and nimble as Agent Bay.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: A variation. Nobody uses the air vent to travel, but Kettle Stitch's heist involves stashing a safe inside the ventilation system. And of course the ducts are large and sturdy enough for that plan to work.
  • Artistic License: Library sciences. At one point, Chief Spencer refers to a potentially stolen Bible from 1838 as one of "500 surviving US incunabulas." An incunabulum is a manuscript created before the mass advent of the printing press, typically created before the year 1500, and the correct plural is incunabula.
  • Batman Cold Open: The first chapter, in which Agent Bay leads a SWAT team to retrieve books from a "freelance censor".
  • Bloody Hilarious: The first chapter ends with Bay shooting a hole in the perp's torso with a shotgun so his blood and guts will extinguish the match he's trying to use to torch the place.
  • Building Swing: Bay gets from one rooftop to another by shooting down a power line and using it to swing across the gap.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Bay observes the library during open hours. The Bookmobile he sees in this scene gets used in the Phone-Trace Race a few chapters later—and many other library items wind up being used as weapons in the final scene.
  • Climbing Climax: When the library police swarm the thief's apartment, the thief flees via the window fire escape. Bay follows them up, and a rooftop confrontation ensues.
  • Clueless Mystery: Kettle Stitch's identity is uncovered through real police work, and they're someone the reader couldn't possibly predict.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Major spoiler: The real reason why Kettle Stitch never tried to fence the book after stealing it — because someone else had stolen the real book before her. The copy she stole was just a replica left behind by the first thief.
  • Cowboy Cop: Agent Bay takes the over-the-top approach to problem-solving that you would expect from a cowboy cop — but, oddly enough, he doesn't get any grief from his partners or superiors for these shenanigans.
  • The Cracker: It's the '70s, so the criminal hacks into a reel-to-reel computer over the phone line.
  • Desperate Object Catch: Agent Bay pursues Kettle Stitch across rooftops as she tries to get away with the stolen book. When Kettle Stitch misses a jump and falls, Bay improvises a Building Swing to save the book.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Agent Bay shows how far he'll go to get his perp when he exploits shotgun recoil to blast himself across the room, then shoots a hole through the suspect's torso.
  • Establishing Series Moment: In the opening chapter, the actions of a "freelance censor" prompt a SWAT team to storm his apartment, and the perp threatens to immolate the books and himself in response — demonstrating just how much books are Serious Business in this world.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: Bay throws a library book at the thief and apparently misses — but the book triggers the library's alarm system, preventing the thief's escape.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: The initial mystery may be impossible for the audience to solve beforehand, but all the clues leading to the reveal that Spencer is the real book thief are right there for a perceptive reader to pick up. Agent Bay even has a Flash Back to the relevant panels as he puts the pieces together.
  • Funny Background Event: As Agents Bay and Finch search the women's restroom in the library for clues, Agent Walker stands awkwardly in the back, clearly uncomfortable with being in the women's restroom in the first place.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: We only ever see the library police driving when they're in a legitimate hurry to get somewhere—thus, they're driving fast enough to go airborn on every incline, and barely maintaining control of the car as they screech through turns.
  • In-Series Nickname: After Agent Walker points out that the replica left behind by the thief has a kettle stitch binding the leaflets (rather than the common catch stitch), the library police refer to the thief as "Kettle Stitch".
  • Improvised Weapon: The final fight scene happens inside Oakland Library. Card catalogue drawers, sliding bookshelves, and newspapers on big wooden sticks all get weaponized over the course of the fight.
  • Locked Room Mystery: As Bay himself points out, three concentric locked room mysteries: How did the perp enter the library without picking the lock on the only door? How did he retrieve the book from the safe without leaving any evidence that the safe had been cracked? And how did he leave the library with the book without triggering the anti-theft alarm?
  • Master Forger: The thief "Kettle Stitch" (real name Susan Lovelace) makes a forgery of a priceless historical Bible, so when she steals the real thing from its display at Oakland Public Library, she leaves the copy behind in its place. Her forgery is good enough, the library staff don't even notice the theft until weeks later — though it's not good enough to fool a trained document analyst from the police. Then the ending twist reveals the book she stole was actually another forgery. Chief Spencer, head of Oakland Library's security, had replaced the real Bible with a copy of his own creation months before.
  • Metaphorgotten: Bay's motivational speech in the final chapter.
    Agent Bay: It might seem to you that we're grasping at straws. But straws are all we've got left. There is one straw that is going to break this case wide open. Which is why I need each and every one of you to follow your own straw to the bitterest end.
  • Ow, My Body Part!: Jacob Leland's reaction to a shotgun blasting his lower torso: He moans "My bladder..." before he starts just screaming in pain.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Averted and lampshaded. As Bay examines the safe used to store the Bible, he confirms the library didn't use an easy-to-guess combination:
    Agent Bay: Did you leave it on the factory setting?
    Chief Spencer: We changed it.
    Agent Bay: To a birthdate?
    Chief Spencer: No.
  • Perp Sweating: Even when the police know that Leslie Stair can't be their thief, they keep up the pressure on him, on the off-chance that the thief is someone he knows.
  • Phone-Trace Race: In this case, Agents Bay and Finch are physically racing towards the pay phone, attempting to catch the perp in the act of phone hacking.
  • The Profiler: "ALA's top profiler" concludes that Kettle Stitch is a loner, speaks with a lisp or stutter, and was a childhood bed-wetter.
  • Quip to Black: "Shhhhhhhh." "Read him his rights."
  • Race Against the Clock: The book is scheduled to be returned to the Library of Congress in three days. If the Library Police can't find the book before then, they'll have to report the theft to their superiors, and the Feds will take over the case.
  • Recoil Boost: Bay exploits the ridiculous recoil from a shotgun to propel himself across a room, very quickly.
  • Replaced with Replica: The plot concerns the theft of an antique Bible with historical significance. The theft went unnoticed for weeks because the thief left a very accurate fake in its place. The big twist at the end is that stolen book was also a fake, thanks to Colliding Criminal Conspiracies—the real book had been stolen by someone higher-up, months beforehand.
  • Reused Character Design: Several of the main characters are played by members of Shiga's "Star System". Most notably, Agent Finch would later show up as Sara from Empire State. All of them have European-sounding names in this, despite being Chinese (if their ethnicity is specified at all) in the other comics they appear in.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The detectives initially assume that Kettle Stitch is a male, and overlook important clues because of that assumption. By chance, Bay notices telltale scratches on the women's restroom key (indicating someone made a duplicate) and realizes that Kettle Stich is a woman, which proves crucial to reconstructing her M.O.
  • Save the Villain: Subverted. When Kettle Stitch drops from the roof, Agent Bay pulls off a Building Swing, and it looks like he's going to rescue her. But he just grabs the book, and lets Kettle Stitch fall.
  • Say My Name: This is all Bay can do when the thief evades capture. "Damn you, Kettle Stitch!"
  • The '70s: The story's set in 1973. The usual signifiers for the decade (fashion, hair, disco music, etc) are absent or downplayed. Instead, 70s technology is the most relevant: libraries are just beginning to transfer their records to computer systems (huge computers with magnetic tape reels, of course), and phone hacking is a concern.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Surprisingly, realistically portrayed. The SWAT team uses a shotgun with shocklock rounds to blow out the door locks.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Bay shoots a massive hole through a guy for threatening to burn some books on Sino-American relations, lets another suspect fall to her apparent death (she survived, barely) to save the rare Bible she was stealing, and even gives a flippant Quip to Black as another suspect is bleeding out in a broken window display (he also survives, barely).
  • Soft Glass: Apparently glass is harmless if you intentionally jump through it, but dangerous if you're unintentionally flung through it.
  • Spies In a Van: The Library Police have at least one unmarked van, disguised as an ice cream truck, used for spying on suspects and deploying SWAT teams.
  • Splash Panel: A two-page spread to show off the size of the Oakland Public Library.
  • Smoking Gun Control: Twice, Agent Bay thinks he's found a clear link to Kettle Stitch, first with a missing circulation card, then with the counterfeit library card. Both times, the evidence is inconclusive because Kettle Stitch is too good at covering their tracks.
  • Super Window Jump: Useful for SWAT home invasions, or for getting onto the fire escape in a hurry.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: "To catch a thief, you must think like a thief. You must live, eat, and dress like a thief."
  • Treacherous Advisor: The real book thief turns out to be Chief Herbert Spencer, Head of Security at the Oakland Library.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: Agent Bay tries to crush the fleeing book thief between a set of adjustable library shelves.